Monthly Archives: November 2012

Andrew Hill

With the Chinese Communist party about to anoint Xi Jinping as its new secretary general, there is plenty of speculation about the implications of its political and economic changes for the rest of the world, but little about its capacity to inspire management innovation.

China is overdue a modern management guru (Sun Tzu, born around the sixth century BC, doesn’t count).

Walter Kiechel has written an excellent potted history of “The Management Century” in the latest Harvard Business Review, starting in the late 19th and early 20th century with an “age of scientific management” (led by Frederick Winslow Taylor), moving through a more sophisticated era of growing self-confidence from the 1940s to the 1980s (dominated by the insights of Peter Drucker, whose life and work is celebrated this week at the Global Drucker Forum in Vienna) and on to the modern era of specialisation and globalisation. But, as Kiechel writes, “most of our story so far takes place in the United States”: Read more

John Gapper

Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky introduces a new tablet computer. Image by Getty

The unexpected departure of Steven Sinofsky as head of Microsoft’s giant Windows division has some inescapable similarities to that of Scott Forstall, who ran Apple’s mobile software. Read more

As elusive as Bigfoot, as addictive as a Big Mac, as sinister as Big Brother: the lure of “big data” is perfect bait for fee-hungry experts hunting new business. It also poses untold risks to companies that fail to read the trend, or the data, correctly.

Andrew Hill

I’m interested to see the name of Caroline Thomson re-emerge on the list of potential candidates to take over as BBC director-general from George Entwistle, who stepped down humiliatingly on Saturday.

Her farewell speech – predating the Savile and Newsnight scandals that laid Mr Entwistle low – now sounds prescient, with its reminder that the corporation “must never lose sight of its purpose”:

It is always when the BBC loses sight of what it is here for that it runs into trouble with licence fee payers. Confidence doesn’t mean arrogance. Indeed, if we are in a biblical frame of mind, humility is in order.

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Andrew Hill

Justin Welby. Image by PA

The odds are that Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, will be named the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Such are the rumours that a company would have stopped trading in its shares and issued a statement by now, but that’s not how things are done in the Church of England.

Far from focusing on the bishop’s spiritual qualities, however, much of the coverage so far has homed in on his background: Eton – the same private school as David Cameron, British prime minister – Cambridge university, and then stints as an executive at Elf Aquitaine and Enterprise Oil. Is this relevant?

 

The Eton-and-Cambridge part of his CV is a red herring, to my mind – there seems no reason why someone from a privileged background shouldn’t be allowed to apply that privilege to perform good works – and Bishop Welby put the executive life behind him when he saw the light and quit business 25 years ago. Even in the oil industry, that is quite a long time. Read more

It was a gritty campaign and it brought one last pivot for Barack Obama – the candidate who once promised the voters hope and change – as he appeared in Chicago to mark his victory. Amid a soaring speech about the US, he acknowledged that his job at the White House is to find jobs for others.

Andrew Hill

Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager, says he wants to know “how the fans smell”: he walks the arena during the star’s show to get a sense of how they’re receiving the act. Phil Clarke, chief executive of Tesco, has set in motion a retraining scheme for the UK retailer’s managers called “Making Moments Matter”, preparing them for face-to-face contact with customers.

Yet both men work for organisations (if Gaga can be described that way) that have also pioneered the use of technology – the Little Monsters Gaga fan site, the Tesco loyalty ClubCard – that helps them know their customers and run their businesses more efficiently.

The mixed approach they advocate illustrates a theme that emerged strongly from this week’s FT Innovate conference, where both men spoke: how to put the personal touch back in technology? Or, as Aimie Chapple of Accenture summarised at one roundtable session: how do you add the love to Big Data? Read more

John Gapper

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Image by Getty

On the day of the US presidential election, we are witnessing a perfect antithesis of those who believe in intuition and those who trust in data. That has implications not only for political observers but for finance.

Nate Silver, the New York Times’ polling guru, who crunches the state and national polls and feeds them into a unified model that spits out a probability of who will be elected president, has Barack Obama as the 91.6 per cent favourite to win.

Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, feels something in the air: Read more

The saga of Florida’s “hanging chads”, which prolonged the disputatious US presidential race of 2000 well beyond polling day, also left corporate America hanging.

John Gapper

Standard and Poor's HQ. Image by Getty

The Australian court judgment against Standard & Poor’s for misleading investors in a complex, structured derivative is a worrying development for rating agencies that face growing legal risks.

The judge found S&P negligent in having accepted a false estimate of volatility given to it by ABN Amro, the issuing bank, and thus assigned the securities a triple-A rating in 2006. In practice, these securities collapsed in value within two years.

As Jayne Jagot, the judge in the case, ruled:

“S&P believed ABN Amro’s assertions that the actual average volatility of the Globoxx since inception was 15 per cent. S&P did not calculate the volatility for itself although it could easily have done so and, in my view, was required to do so as a reasonably competent ratings agency . . . This assumption as to volatility was unreasonably and unjustifiably low.”

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